The A List: Birmingham’s Builders


A List CThe team at Shannon Waltchack brings revival to Birmingham’s urban districts.

Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne • Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

What sparks a renaissance? What causes something—a city, say—to turn corners, clean out the dust, shake things up? It’s hard to say for sure. We know that our Birmingham has been in the throes of such a rebirth for several years; if you walk around with your eyes open, it’s impossible to miss. Our Birmingham, a dreamboat for foodies. Our Birmingham, moving 50 years forward. Our Birmingham.

Though it’s impossible to know exactly how or why or when it began, we do know that the folks at Shannon Waltchack have a heart for Birmingham, a belief in Birmingham, and the energy it takes to make things happen. In fact, they’ve been making things happen in the city since the firm was founded in 2005. They now mange more than 2.75 million square feet of real estate and they’ve worked on a variety of notable real estate projects that have opened up new doors in the city.

One of their first projects was The Hollywood, a strip center on Hollywood Boulevard in Homewood that had been sitting vacant for years. “We bought the property right in the teeth of the Great Recession when ‘fear was stalking the land,’” partner Derek Waltchack says. “We were scared, too, but thought we had an idea that would work. Our vision for the property was to recycle the center in all its 1950s glory.” The space is now home to favorites like Mexico Lindo and Over Easy, listed under a brightly lit sign proclaiming “The Hollywood.” “Working with the city of Birmingham, we were able to get the iconic Hollywood sign approved, and I hope that sign is around long after we’re gone,” Waltchack says.

Though downtown Birmingham has faced (and still is facing) its difficulties, Waltchack says he felt a tangible difference in the air after Railroad Park opened in 2010, which spurred the renovation of Railroad Square. The team, which includes partners Len Shannon, Waltchack, Timothy Blair, and Andrew Patterson, and a host of others, agreed with Waltchack and the project took flight. “I had my eye on the building, but the area was so blighted. Once the park opened, I took a couple of my kids to check it out and couldn’t believe how different the area felt after it opened,” Waltchack explains. “I checked and the building was still available so [we] plunged ahead.”

That project changed the face of downtown. Not only was Shannon Waltchack developing lifeless buildings into thriving places, but they stood by their belief that Birmingham’s urban districts could be revived: After developing the 18th Street and Second Avenue South space, the firm made the move from 280 to downtown in 2012, which Waltchack says gave them a better vision for the city. “We, as a firm, went from being suburban-minded to urban-aware. In doing so, we became part of the trend of the re-urbanization of the United States,” he says. “We started to work on more projects in the city of Birmingham and now have five projects in some stage of development in the Central Business District.”

The team is obviously no stranger to taking gambles, and that policy has affected Birmingham for the better. Their latest project, the Stockyard @ Railroad Park, lives up to those standards and is the next step for vibrancy in the Parkside District. “It came about after we found so much quick success in leasing Railroad Square that we looked for our next project immediately,” Waltchack says. The project is a space of lofts and offices and utilizes shipping containers and urban timber as design elements. “I’ve been wanting to do a project utilizing shipping containers as architectural structure and design elements for a while. At the Stockyard we’re using 25 recycled shipping containers. They form offices, conference rooms, bathrooms, and even a 40-foot light well,” Waltchack explains. “Expanding the recycling and repurposing theme, we decided to try to use as much urban timber as we could in the project. We teamed up with Gray’s Tree Service and they began delivering logs that had been cut out of Birmingham yards, which were headed for a landfill. We then used a portable mill to cut the logs into dimensional lumber, put the wood into an onsite solar kiln, and voila, we have the most low impact wood possible. The wood will be used as siding for the walls as well as all of our desk tops.”

Waltchack and his partners are also encouraging Birmingham make this space its own from the start. They’re using crowdsourcing resources to get residents involved with naming, filling, and designing the building. One Birminghamiam won a $1,000 prize for coming up with the name “The Stockyard @ Railroad Park,” and was just one of some 300 who submitted. By visiting birminghamsbuilding.com, you can take part in voting for restaurants and other tenants to fill the space. The Stockyard @ Railroad Park is set to open its doors sometime in January of 2015.

Shannon Waltchack has no plans of slowing down; this is what they love to do and they love our Birmingham, Waltchack says. “For me, the most fun part is unlocking hidden value, whether that’s winning a new property management account and finding untapped revenue sources in the lease or simply using our scale to reduce operating costs or buying a dilapidated property and bringing it back into a productive member of society.

“I hope by recycling buildings, we’re creating attractive places for folks to work, shop, and live. We’ve also been fairly loud in our praise for our city and what really is going on. I think the more good stories that are told about the Birmingham, it helps us all. And there are a bunch of good stories to tell.”

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